I’m willing to bet that most people reading this haven’t thought of going to Wales. Wedged in the middle of England, Scotland, and Ireland, it’s three neighbors tend to get tacked onto travelers’ lists leaving a surrendered Wales there in the corner asking, “Someboooody? Anybooooody?” Being a middle child, I feel for Wales. The “somebody, anybody” was a word for word reenactment of a 3 year old me to a room full of delinquent siblings taking up all the attention of my parents. It’s fine, I mean, I’m over it, but like don’t we all just want to love and be loved in retu–… I’m getting off track. Seldom has a country taken me by surprise the way this one did. In fact, we weren’t even planning on staying in Wales for more than a couple days, just long enough to see my travel buddy’s dad’s old hangout from his stay a couple decades back (don’t want to offend anyone by guessing the incorrect decade so let’s just not try). We ended up extending our stay to 8 days because we immediately fell in love with this country that we knew hardly anything about (except Prince Harry is/was the prince of it- hubba hubba). This is not an extensive list of things to do in Wales, simply the places I’ve been, in hopes that it will inspire you to go to this beautiful, oft-neglected destination.
Our first stop brought us to the small town of Bridgend. This is quite off the beaten path, but in true Welsh style, it’s quaintness lends to a relaxing, pleasant atmosphere. Our purpose for this stop was, as explained above, to see where my friend’s dad had hung out while in town for a sports competition (I’ve forgotten the sport, I think it was rugby though). What really intrigued us was not so much the look of the place, however pretty it was, but the attitude of the people. Right off the bat, the Welsh were the friendliest people we had come across whilst on the road. They were like a breath of fresh air- helpful, cheerful, and friendly. I remember one woman overhearing our American accents as we walked down the street and asking where we were from, absolutely “chuffed” about why we were in tiny Bridgend. This small act may seem insignificant but it is just something that didn’t happen to us in many places. Aside from the people, there are a lot of cozy pubs that bring into fruition the vibe the UK sheds. Lively, yet warm and homey.
Swansea was recommended to us by an old gentleman we met in a pub on our first day in Bridgend. It is a seaside town on the southern coast of Wales, so naturally many a beach walk happened here. Swansea Castle lies in ruins in the center of town, a stark contrast to the more modern shops and commercial buildings constructed around it. You can also walk the path to the next town over, called Mumbles (Great name. The map calls it “The Mumbles” but I don’t remember anyone we met calling it that.), another small town, to enjoy the view of the ocean and the Welsh architecture.
Hands down one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Never had I seen grass so green or water so beautiful. Once here, the best thing there is to do is to walk and enjoy the surroundings. It is easy to catch a bus here from Swansea, so that is a must-do. There is a small hotel and a couple restaurants here as well, although we only spent one very windy afternoon here on the backpackers budget, so I can’t vouch for their quality. What I do know is that it would be quite the place to wake up in. The Wales Coast Path also runs through here, a walking path which is unique in that it is a completely uninterrupted path around the entire coast of Wales, 870 miles long to be exact. If you’re not up for that, a mile or two along this section will certainly suffice.
Now, the thing about Wales is that it is not hostel-friendly, and therefore not entirely backpacker friendly. You will spend more money here, the only options being B&B’s and hotels (of course, now I’m sure Airbnb has taken over since 2014, so this may not be a problem). It hurt our bank accounts a tad but we also had an excuse to stay at some lovely places and eat an English breakfast everyday. Compiled of a fried egg, baked beans, sausage, ham, and tomato, with slight variations here and there, the breakfast was something we seriously looked forward to every morning. In Cardigan, however, we stayed at the Black Lion Hotel. We chose this purely based on the friendliness of the staff- the guy working at the time gave us a good vibe. From the hotel we could walk everywhere. Speaking of hotels, Cardigan Castle is not just a lovely castle, but a hotel now too! The village of St. Dogmaels is a little less than a half hour’s walk away, which has a nice beach and connects you back to the Wales Coast Path. I’m a big walker, so I enjoyed this a lot. Cows speckle the landscape and the views are simply stellar.
The town of Conwy is still completely surrounded by the castle walls built in the 13th century by Edward I (on behalf of William Wallace: boooooo. People don’t forget.). The castle is also very intact and dominates the entrance to Conwy. It’s so fun walking the castle walks and exploring the castle itself, especially for history buffs such as myself. Sailboats float along the river, softening the severity of the stone walls. Not only is this the home of a castle, but also Great Britain’s smallest house, the Quay House. Built in the 16th century, this house was occupied until 1900 by a 6’3 fisherman because why wouldn’t it be. Of all the places we visited in Wales, I have to say Conwy was my favorite. It was peaceful, historical, with a little bit of everything that makes for the perfect laid back getaway.
So there it is, folks! Wales is awesome. Jammed packed with history, good vibes, good breakfast, good people, you really can’t go wrong. Go see for yourself. I can promise you that you won’t be disappointed.